UNICEF’s Comparative Advantage Dubai Speech

UNICEF’s Comparative Advantage and Future Focus

Presentation by Kul C. Gautam

at UNICEF Global Consultation

Dubai, 1 July 2004

Dear colleagues,

Never before in the history of UNICEF have we assembled such a large cross section of UNICEF’s leadership – all of our country reps, regional directors, HQ directors, representatives of GSA, a Goodwill Ambassador, and very significantly, our wonderful National Committees whose work makes UNICEF the most widely known and admired agency of the UN system in the industrialised countries.

I want to thank Carol Bellamy for bringing us all together, and for the stirring call to action that she just delivered.

The high hopes that the Secretary- General expressed in his message today, and the uplifting message we heard from the inimitable Harry Belafonte last night – we love you Harry – encourage us to keep our sights high and our vision bold.

Mindful of the historic nature of this gathering, I want to share with you, dear colleagues, some ideas and proposals that may sound a little outlandish.

But if we work for children, surely we are entitled to dream once in a while, aren’t we?

And this consultation is certainly one such occasion.

As Harry’s mentor, Martin Luther King used to say, ‘We have a Dream’. Our dream – indeed our assigned task – is to help create a world fit for children.


Today I have been asked to speak on “Results for Children: UNICEF’s Comparative Advantage and Future Focus”.

I will certainly try to do so. But I ask your indulgence, in advance, to allow me to speak frankly, even to be politically incorrect, and provocative.

After all, we are in a family gathering here. And I take a little extra latitude, because although I am not the oldest, and certainly not the wisest person in this gathering, I believe I am the longest serving UNICEF staff member here – exactly 31 years and 8 days old today.

And I will take the liberty of this longevity to speak my mind freely.

What are UNICEF’s comparative advantages? I see 5:

  1. UNICEF has a soul

  2. UNICEF delivers

  3. UNICEF is daring

  4. UNICEF is the people-to-people agency of the UN system

  5. UNICEF stands for global solidarity for children

Now this may sound like a strange way to describe our comparative advantages. So let me elaborate.

As we saw in that wonderful film narrated by Harry Belafonte last night, UNICEF was born out of the extraordinary tragedy that befell on children during the Second World War. It was established with the noble purpose of helping people in acute distress.

When Maurice Pate was asked to take on the job of the first Executive Director, he accepted it on condition that UNICEF would be allowed to help all children in need, including those in the so-called “enemy states” regardless of the politics of their parents.

In asking this, Maurice Pate was following the great example of Eglantyne Jebb, the remarkable Englishwoman and  founder of the Save the Children movement who had famously said, “My Lord, I have no enemy below the age of 11”.

This principle has given UNICEF its soul. It has allowed UNICEF to help children caught in all sides of armed conflicts. It has allowed UNICEF to invoke “children as a zone of peace”.

To UNICEF staff and volunteers, its work is a mission not a job. That is why so many UNICEF staff are willing to serve voluntarily in the most difficult and dangerous circumstances.

UNICEF is indeed an organization with a soul.

UNICEF delivers.

That is our name to fame. Each one of you here could tell tales of UNICEF delivering life saving support to children in war zones and natural disasters.

At the height of the bombardment against the Talebans in Afghanistan, UNICEF was delivering polio vaccine. Operation Life Line Sudan is all about delivering supplies, services and support to the needy.

Even when we had to evacuate our international staff, UNICEF keeps delivering water and sanitation in Baghdad and Basra even to this day, against all odds.

From North Korea to East Timor, from Algeria to Zimbabwe, from Kosovo to Haiti, rain or shine or snow, UNICEF delivers.


UNICEF is daring.

Challenging the orthodoxy of powerful international financial institutions, we dared to call for “an adjustment with a human face”.

We dared to speak on the impact of apartheid in Children on the Frontline.

In the name of children, we dared to ask that wars be stopped, and days of tranquillity were observed in many countries to immunize children.

We dared to call for a World Summit for Children, which even the derring-do Jim Grant – who continues to inspire us so much even to this day – even he thought that was such an outlandish prposal at the time that he momentarily feared it might be laughed out of court.

But it became the largest gathering of world leaders in history, until that time, leading the way for all the great Summits of the 1990s culminating in the Millennium Summit.

Carol Bellamy dared to challenge in 1997 a UN reform proposal that could have seriously damaged UNICEF’s autonomy and effectiveness. And thank goodness for her daring that we came out unscathed.

And friends, we might be called upon to other daring tasks in the future. And I hope that like our predecessors we and our successors will rise to the challenge and will have the courage to respond, to protect the best interest of children.


The United Nations was created in the name of “We the Peoples”. But in practice, it is an organization of “We the sovereign governments”.

With thousands of volunteers working for our National Committees, with UNICEF staff working at sub national and community levels, with our greeting cards reaching millions of people, UNICEF is by far the most people to people organization of the UN system.

We pay tribute to the work of our National Committees and Goodwill Ambassadors who have contributed so immensely to making UNICEF the most recognized and respected organization of the UN system.

We need to utilize this respect and recognition to ensure that UNICEF’s work promotes global solidarity for children.

No amount of money we raise or assistance we deliver will be enough to combat poverty, to fight injustice and to protect the rights of children.

What we need is to create a sense of solidarity, especially among children and young people, that investing in children is both the best investment and the right thing to do for all enlightened citizens.

I therefore think that education for development or education for child rights is one of the most important things that our National Committees can do. And I hope that we will return from this consultation with a renewed conviction on the value of such education for global solidarity with children.


These comparative advantages of UNICEF should help us define how we work.

In terms of what we do, we are fortunate that we have at our disposal 4 sets of roadmaps.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child offers us a long-term agenda to pursue.

A hundred years from now, if UNICEF still exists, we will be striving for the full implementation of the rights enshrined in the Convention. Because many of the rights are progressive, not absolute – such as achieving the highest attainable standard of health and wellbeing – rights are forever and must be pursued in every society.

The Millennium Declaration and the Millennium Development Goals provide us the broad developmental landscape within which we will pursue child specific goals, targets and actions for at least the next 10 years.

National Programmes of Action or other national policy and programme instruments developed to implement the Declaration and Plan of Action of the Special Session on Children, contain these child-specific goals, targets and actions.

In the short to medium-term, we have our Medium Term Strategic Plan, which will guide us in our work.

We have just completed a thorough mid-term review of the MTSP – the first of its kind in UNICEF’s history.

This MTR of MTSP – whose findings are in your folder in a “synthesis report” – tells us that the 5 organizational priorities of our current MTSP will continue to serve us well, though there are some suggestions for fine-tuning them.

Let me take these one by one.

The MTR found the Girls’ Education priority conceptually clear and allowing for country specific adaptation. It is helping position UNICEF as a major player in the basic education MDG.

Under this rubrique, “The Back to School” campaigns with their “school in a box” component have become our “signature” interventions in emergencies and post-conflict situations. These have helped us to operationalise our core corporate commitments in education in emergencies.

Emphasis on girls’ education has helped us advance the human rights based approach to programming by focusing our attention to “reaching the unreached” and making schools more child-friendly, which benefits both boys and girls.

The MTR  pointed out, as we already knew before, that in some countries and regions, it is the boys rather than girls who are more deprived of education. A generic way to deal with this issue would be to change the priority to “Quality Basic Education with Gender Equity”.

While that would be a more accurate formulation, it may not have the same advocacy appeal as does Girls’ Education.  I would therefore keep “Girls’ Education” as a continuing corporate priority with the understanding that quality education with equity is our ultimate objective.

Immunization Plus is another area of UNICEF’s proven strength.  With its clear targets and UNICEF’s known track record, it too is a “signature” brand for UNICEF.

Donors have been voting with their wallets to support UNICEF’s actions for immunization, although the arrival of GAVI, the Vaccine Fund and the soon to come International Finance Facility pilot for immunization could possibly eclipse UNICEF’s role and visibility.

There is no question in my mind that UNICEF must continue to play a leadership role in immunisation, and that the forthcoming WHO/UNICEF global immunisation strategy will help position UNICEF as a key leader in this domain.

The new immunization strategy will focus on reaching the unreached by institutionalizing 4 routine contacts with children every year. To make routine immunization an exciting affair, we would need to add some other key child survival interventions as the “plus” elements of immunization plus. Such plus elements could vary from country to country, but there will be some common elements such as vitamin A and other nutritional supplements.

Routine immunization and booster shots at school entry or graduation, combined with deworming, hygiene education and sanitation would be other “plus” elements.

With the expected introduction of rotavirus, malaria and other new vaccines in the coming decade, I see immunization as a major contribution of UNICEF to MDG #4, leading eventually to the reduction of up to 3 million child deaths per year.

Like in the 1980s, immunization along with several other key interventions by UNICEF could spearhead another child survival revolution in the coming decade.

Indeed we should seriously consider whether we might fold immunization into a broader child survival package as a new MTSP priority.


The MTR has raised some questions about the salience of Integrated Early Child Development as an MTSP priority.

Half of the UNICEF country offices and a sizeable number of NatComs and Board members found difficulty understanding, explaining and selling IECD.

When broken down to its individual components – such as nutrition, maternal and child health, water and sanitation – IECD enjoys high level of support and excitement. But as a composite whole, it leaves many people a little bewildered.

IECD was designed to take advantage of the synergistic effect of health, nutrition, water and sanitation and psycho-social stimulation of children, and the key role of caring family practices. Indeed the emphasis on an “integrated” approach is much valued by many of our staff and some of our counterparts. But many of our partners find it difficult to relate IECD to specific MDGs or to any sector-based programmes.

Thus we have the irony of the one MTSP priority on which UNICEF spends most money being perceived by many staff, Natcoms and donors as having the least impact and arousing the least excitement.

In concocting IECD, we seem to have turned its exciting components into an unexciting composite, turning some of our most passionate advocates for its individual parts into dispassionate acceptors of a composite whole.

An unintentional consequence of IECD has been the impression created that UNICEF is not attaching enough corporate priority to water and sanitation, maternal and child survival, and nutrition, except in emergency situations.

IECD as such is unlikely to attract “thematic funding” from donors, whereas its individual components would be far more attractive.

The bottom line to me is that in the next MTSP we will need to unbundle IECD and repackage it in a different configuration.

Water and sanitation, for example, might well become a self-standing priority given its extraordinarily liberating impact on girls and women, its popularity among donors and communities, and the high regard in which UNICEF continues to be held in this sector.


Turning now to HIV/AIDS, the MTR found this to be a widely accepted priority, perceived as conceptually clear, operationally galvanizing and lending itself to strong advocacy and action.

Over time this priority has evolved to a sharper focus on scaling up action on OVCs; prevention among young people; and care, treatment and support for children and family with AIDS.

I must say, I personally find PMTCT to be the most UNICEF-fy of all interventions in HIV/AIDS, and find its reduced visibility within the cluster of care, treatment and support for children and families with AIDS rather regrettable.

I think PMTCT can be a winner for UNICEF. I would like to see it continuing to be a discrete area of UNICEF’s action as part of our unique contribution to 3 by 5 and whatever might be its successor.


As an MTSP priority, child protection stands out as a clear and popular choice, especially appreciated by our NGO partners, NatComs and child rights activists.

A weakness, lack of measurable indicators, is being remedied through intensive work by UNICEF in the past year.

The concept of creating a “protective environment” helps us to link UNICEF’s work in child protection with the Millennium Declaration and gives a deeper meaning to rights-based approach to programming.

The findings of the UN study on violence against children will surely result in some more recommendations for UNICEF follow-up.

Discrimination pervades many aspects of children’s lives, and needs to be seen not solely as a protection issue but as a key feature of Human Rights-based Approach to Programming applicable to all MTSP priorities.


While not a separate priority, our work in emergencies and humanitarian crisis must embody all of the MTSP priorities, and all of these priorities must be embedded in our emergency operations.

Some of the inadequacies of our MTSP priorities as they apply to emergencies have been compensated by the robustness of our Core Corporate Commitments. These commitments derived through the Martigny process and the greater professionalization of EMOPS and OPSCEN have served UNICEF well and need to be safeguarded and further developed.


An organization’s strategic business plan can, of course, be prepared in many ways. And our country offices have offered a variety of alternatives ranging from following the life-cycle  approach, to more sectoral approach, to a rights-based approach to one following a regional or typology of country approach.

Since there are merits in all of these approaches, yet another way to largely keep the current priorities but still be responsive to the variety of country situations is to follow a modular approach.

In this approach, there would be a set of global priorities that would be universally applicable, but to which some specific regional or sub-regional themes could be added.

This approach, for example, would allow our NatComs to add education for development, or child rights education, with some specific goals and measurable indicators as their special MTSP priority.

It maybe unrealistic to have uniform priorities across all countries and regions in this highly diverse world. So a modular approach, in which there is a core of shared priorities, but to which a small set of regional priorities can be retrofitted, would be a worthwhile model to consider for the future.

These additional priorities should not be seen as second class priorities, but as equally valid and valued components of the corporate MTSP.

Indeed a test of these priorities, as with all the MTSP priorities, should be that they lend themselves to “thematic fund-raising”.

Whatever we do, one consideration to keep in mind is to ensure that UNICEF actions and priorities are seen as major contributors to the MDGs.

The mandate of no other organization matches as closely to MDGs as that of UNICEF. And we must ensure that this is properly reflected in the manner we communicate the next edition of our MTSP.


Whichever way we craft our action priorities, we must ensure that the full force of UNICEF’s assets are mobilised to the optimum to support these priorities.

One of UNICEF’s great assets has been our supply function. Our ability to expeditiously procure, pack, and deliver low-cost and high quality commodities to programmes must be leveraged not just for UNICEF-supported programmes but in support of our larger advocacy objectives for children.

We have successfully supplied virtually the whole world’s vaccine requirements for the polio eradication campaign, 2 billion doses a year for quite a few years now.

If the world is going to mobilize several billion dollars a year for anti-retroviral drugs for HIV/AIDS and similar amounts for new vaccines, malaria prophylactics, bed nets, I would hope that in the next 10 years we could aspire to make Supply Division responsible for procuring $1 billion for UNICEF and an additional $1 billion of procurement services for others.

Advocacy and communication is another one of UNICEF’s assets. We need to sharpen and hone these skills – not just among our information and communication officers, but among programme officers, all heads of offices, the current leaders and aspiring future leaders of this organization, National Committees included.

The recent branding exercise has been useful in this context. As we move it forward, let us get rid of some of the gimmickry and orthodoxy of branding specialists, and unleash the creative spirit and energies of UNICEF’s own best advocates.

As Harry Belafonte was telling us last night, with a few notable exceptions, our wonderful Goodwill Ambassadors have been underutilised, and perhaps under-supported. We need to rise up to Harry’s challenge and collectively figure out how best we can better utilise this extraordinary resource available to us.


What should UNICEF’s fund-raising target be for the next 10 years?

My own bias is that UNICEF’s success should not be measured in terms of the dollars or euros or yens we raise or spend, but in terms of how well we influence the decisions and actions of those who command huge resources.

Sometimes, small, lean and agile agencies achieve greater influence and impact than organizations that are embroiled in managing and accounting for huge sums of monies.

I want to see UNICEF basically as a small and efficient organization, but big enough to get a seat at the table where important decisions are being made that impact on the well-being of vast numbers of children.

So how small would be optimum for UNICEF in the coming decade? I would think that UNICEF should aspire to be – now some of you may wish to fasten your seat belts, ladies and gentlemen – conservatively speaking, a $5 billion dollar a year organization.

I know there is no way that such a fund-raising target would be considered feasible or desirable by our Executive Board or by our donors. And I know it would be foolish to propose such a target. So why do I even raise it?

Friends, let me take you back to UNICEF’s history.

On the 8th of January 1947 Maurice Pate got his letter of appointment as the first Executive Director of UNICEF from Secretary-General Trygvie Lee. And he also got a cheque of $550,000 left over funds from UNRRA, as seed money to launch UNICEF.

So we started this organization with $550,000.

A week after his appointment, Pate wrote to General George C. Marshall, US Secretary of State requesting a modest $100 million towards the cost of  “a glass of milk, and some fat to spread on bread” for 6 million hungry children in Europe and China.

He did not get $100 million, but did get $40 million. Thank God, he had not asked for only $40 million.

Not discouraged by this, Maurice Pate and Ludwick Rajchman, the Chair of the Board, went to all other donors and appealed for $450 million to feed 25 million children in Europe and 30 million in Asia.

As I said before, our predecessors were daring. And let us not be too timid.

After the major emergency in post-war Europe was over, UNICEF’s income declined significantly, and grew slowly in the 1950s and 60s to reach a modest $100 million when I joined UNICEF in 1973.

When Harry Labouisse, set the target of doubling this income to $200 million by the time of the International Year of the Child in 1979, many thought that was unrealistic. But in fact that goal was exceeded.

During Jim Grant’s period, we reached what seemed like an astronomical figure of $1.1 billion in 1995 from a lowly figure of $300 million in 1980.

We have now reached another high during Carol Bellamy’s leadership of $1.7 billion, and counting.

It always seems in retrospect that it was easier to raise money in the good old days, than it is now. But in fact we are now entering an era of massive increases in ODA, corporate and philanthropic giving, as shown by the emergence of a variety of global funds, and the amazing performance of some of our NatComs.

This is the time for us to set our sights high.

And speaking of global funds, perhaps the time has come for us to remind everybody who are so enamoured of these mechanisms that UNICEF is the first and the original global fund for children.

Why would anybody want to go and create new global funds for so many activities so directly related to children, such as immunization, nutrition, HIV/AIDS and malaria, when there is an existing global fund, called UNICEF, that has 8000 people working in 160 countries, NatComs successfully pioneering public-private partnerships in 37 industrialized countries, a proven track record of access to leaders and achievement on the ground?

What is it that we do not offer the investors in the new global funds that the new upstarts offer them? Could we reconsider some of our own limitations, self-imposed or otherwise?

I believe that it is not beyond the capacity of this group of people assembled right here, if we want to open those doors that have been closed to us, that could lead to making UNICEF a $5 billion agency in the next 10 years, if we choose to do so.


Finally, let me touch on the subject of UN reform which we will be discussing at length tomorrow. Much of what we want to do will be seriously impacted, positively or negatively, by what happens in the process of UN reforms in the coming years.

We have in our folder, two reports on external evaluation of UNICEF’s role in the reform of the UN’s development system. Its findings are quite impressive.

UNICEF is recognized as having made large and lasting contribution to the UN reform effort. UNICEF is credited to have contributed more to inter-agency coordination than any other organization in terms of staffing, time, and resources allocated.

UNICEF’s role in promoting human rights-based approach to programming is widely acknowledged, as is its contribution to simplification and harmonization. UNICEF has often provided leadership in developing CCAs and UNDAFs, and guidelines for joint programming.

All of this is acknowledged, not just by UNICEF staff but by the staff and leaders of other agencies and by independent external evaluators.

Yet, there is a perception by some of our key donors that UNICEF is really not committed to UN reform, to joint programming, to inter-agency collaboration. It seems hard for us to shake off this perception.

Some of our concerns relating to the need for UNICEF to retain a certain visibility, a certain identity, and accountability to the very same donors for their support, seems to be habitually interpreted as UNICEF’s lack of genuine commitment to UN reforms.

There is frankly a tendency among some of these donors to suggest that UNICEF should jump into action and champion  certain modalities that they themselves are experimenting with a great deal of caution and hesitation, such as pooled funding, budget support and joint programming.

Without any evidence based on facts, they seem to have concluded that such modalities would lead to reduced transaction costs of development assistance.

It seems to me like a faith-based approach to programming based on presumed benefits, while disregarding the proven benefits of UNICEF’s approach to programming which does involve consultation and coordination with other relevant partners.

I find this new orthodoxy of joint programming, pooled funding and budget support perplexing and exaggerated.

Even if all the UN funds and programmes surrendered their identity and went for totally integrated, joint programmes and provided budget support out of their pooled funds, the total resources at their disposal are so small that they would not make a huge impact.

On the other hand, if some of these agencies, particularly UNICEF, were disempowered from their flexible approach to providing catalytic support for their counterparts, including local governments, communities, NGOs, etc. the harm that it would cause to some priority programmes could be considerable.

Developing countries would actually lose out if an organization like UNICEF became less able to raise funds, e.g. through our National Committees, or became more constrained in speaking out and reaching out to communities and constituencies  because of the strictures of everything needing to be done jointly with others.

As the private sector tells us there are advantages of mergers and acquisitions, conglomerates and supermarkets, but there are also advantages of boutiques and specialty stores and arrangements in between.

We are all for harmonization and coordination, but I fear homogenization and conglomeration will not ultimately benefit developing countries.

As I said before, in 1997 Carol Bellamy was wise and daring to have spoken out strongly to preserve the identity of UNICEF as efforts were being made to merge UN funds and programmes into a conglomerate development agency in the name of UN reform.

Our Secretary-General Kofi Annan himself was wise and far sighted when he said, that he wanted the UN funds and programmes to work like a team – not a rowing team in which everybody has to stroke at the same pace but a football team in which there is room for individual brilliance, even as the team is pursuing a common goal.

Now that we are all pursuing the Millennium Development Goals as our common agenda, I would hope that we would all be challenged to show results, not to get stuck on convoluted processes.

I say this honestly, not to defend UNICEF’s parochial interests, but as someone from a developing country who feels in his bones that, with all good intentions, the proponents of joint programming are acting on the basis of theoretical faith, not practical evidence.

In fact, I have a certain premonition that in a few years time this obsession with joint programming, pooled funding and budget support will subside, as has been the case with certain other instruments of development planning that were championed with great conviction at the beginning only to be quietly forgotten in the course of time – such as the country strategy note or the comprehensive development framework.

Perhaps the time has come for us, as Carol did so bravely in 1997, to challenge this orthodoxy, and to seek some evidence in a positive and constructive spirit, before we acquiesce too far to political pressure.

Perhaps this might be a subject worth some frank debate at this meeting because the stakes for UNICEF are potentially very high.


Colleagues, I apologize for being long-winded.

Let me conclude with two quick observations.

As you can see, I am very biased and nostalgic about UNICEF. And I don’t apologize for it.

I want to add my voice to those of others to thank Carol Bellamy for providing energetic and lively leadership for our organization during these turbulent times for children in the world.

She had very big shoes to fill when she came to the helm of UNICEF.  She took the challenge with gusto. She said this was the best job in the world she could ever hope to have. True to that spirit, she has led the organization with relentless drive.  And as we can see she enjoys it thoroughly. Thank you, Carol for your leadership.

In the next year there will be many changes in the leadership of UNICEF. By leadership, I mean all of us.

But we can all be confident that this organization will survive and thrive, because it has not only the noblest of any human mission, but the legacy of the most dedicated human beings who serve it.

What a privilege it is for all of us to have the chance to contribute so meaningfully to creating a world fit for children, and to get paid for it!

Thank you.